Sunday, June 11, 2017

Beebo Brinker by Ann Bannon

Rating: WORTHY!

In this, the last of the so-called Beebo Brinker Chronicles (and it's a good thing they were not actually called that, otherwise I would never have read them!), the author ends the series by taking us back to the beginning - to when Beebo first arrives in New York City and runs into another of the regulars in the series: Jackson Mann. After a slightly distrustful start, Jack, who is gay, takes Beebo under his wing and even arranges for her to get a job as a "delivery boy".

Beebo begins to come out of her shell, and to accept herself as a lesbian, but she has two dicks to deal with. One of these is the husband of the woman for whose Italian restaurant Beebo delivers, and the other is Mona, a bisexual woman who is independently wealthy and has nothing to do with her time, but to be abusive to people and even outright vindictive when she feels slighted - as she does with Beebo after an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Beebo is just 18, and fled her small farming-community town in Wisconsin after the gossip about her became too much to bear. Her real name isn't Beebo any more than Ann Bannon is the author's real name. Betty Jean "Beebo" Brinker is outstanding in more than one way, not least of which is that she wears her hair closely-cropped, and refuses to be feminine, wearing trousers and taking a very masculine role. She's also tall and muscular.

Jack conducts her around the local gay scene and at first Beebo is mildly disgusted in a lesbian bar, but she cannot get those images of women dancing together out of her head, and she's finally persuaded to accept her true self. After the badly-mismanaged non-relationship with Mona, Pete, the Italian husband, puts her onto Paula, an ex of Mona's.

Paula turns out to be exactly what Beebo wants and needs, but it's not plain sailing because Beebo once again proves as vacillating here as she had in Women in the Shadows - or as she would later be in that volume! Once she's made a pizza delivery to the New York home of a Hollywood star, Beebo cannot get "Venus" out of her head, and when Venus tempts her with an offer of employment on her trip to Hollywood to film a new TV show, Beebo drops everything, including Paula, and takes off like a bitch in heat.

The story was great until this point, but it goes downhill somewhat once Beebo gets to California, with rather unbelievable stories of the press's great interest in Venus's private life. It seemed entirely incredible to me. Yes, the press is shamefully like that now, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad in the late fifties and early sixties.

This doesn't mean there were no scandals and it doesn't mean that no-one's career was ruined, but it felt too much to take seriously, especially since Venus wasn't exactly a premier A-list star, and there was nothing at all to lead the press to believe that anything 'untoward' (as they would deem it), was going on. This is the early sixties, after all, and while the US was (and still is) extraordinarily conservative, this "scandal" seemed too much to believe.

None of the entertainment media had even seen Beebo, much less knew she was a woman, much less knew she was having an affair with Venus. The only thing they had was a rumor from some unknown gossips in New York City (Obviously, Pete and Mona) about an affair. There wasn't anything to get the rumor rolling! It was not credible that this would happen as fast as it did and to the extent that it did.

But it does happen and the upshot is that Beebo comes running home to Paula, who of course accepts her and takes her back! It's all lovey-dovey, but clearly it means nothing given Beebo's later history, so it's really hard to understand what Bannon thought she was doing with this story. It's especially hard to understand, given that this is really exactly the same story that was told in Women in the Shadows, where Jack plays the role of Paula, and Beebo becomes both Mona, and Venus! That said, however, the early part of the story was told well and with great feeling if a little over the top here and there, so I recommend it as of historical interest.